As we creep up on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989), some of the remains of the oppressive Ministry for State Security, aka the Stasi, remain as if in their own time capsule. Photographers Daniel and Geo Fuchs have spent a decade documenting the prisons, interrogation rooms, and drab offices where tens of thousands of Stasi employees controlled the lives of many East Germans.
Photographs by the Fuchs went on view last month in an exhibition called Stasi—Secret Rooms at the Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre. According to the center, it’s estimated that the Stasi collected information on “at least every third East German citizen.” Surveillance, detention, and intimidation were all part of this, carried out at clandestine locations. Some of those are now memorialized as museums, but others are simply abandoned, their mid-century interiors from when the Stasi started in the 1950s practically untouched.
The relics of the Stasi seem to have a certain draw for artists, whether it’s Simon Menner digging up photographs of the organization’s fashion for a book or Philipp Lohöfener documenting the eerie state of the Berlin Stasi prison. The photographs by the married Fuchs duo, both of whom are from West Germany, give the spaces a claustrophobic, mundane horror. They’re also oddly barren of anything recalling the people victimized here, even the prison rooms. As Geo Fuchs told Wired this week, the couple tried to find “any scratching or anything in the cells,” messages left behind by prisoners or some desperate scrawl, but “it was very clear you couldn’t see anything.”
While some shots appear to depict any given office from the time period, with clashing wallpaper and curtains still intact, there’s an ominous tone in each. The Stasi prisons hold this threat innately, but the Fuchs’ images — like one of jail waiting room, where the chairs lean in a bit tensely toward a too-small table — amplify this undercurrent of anxiety.
Stasi—Secret Rooms continues at Nikolaj Kunsthal (Nikolaj Plads 10, Copenhagen, Denmark) through October 5.